What to Do in Portsmouth - A Two-Day Itinerary

If you fancy a weekend break centred on naval and maritime heritage, miles of beautiful waterfront, museums, unique shopping destinations and great food and drink, then there is no better place than the vibrant waterfront city of Portsmouth. Getting to Portsmouth is easy. There are regular direct train services from London and the rest of the UK. The city is also easily accessible by air with the Southampton International Airport not far away. All the major tourist attractions in the city are within 40 minutes walking range of the two train stations; so you can conveniently explore everything by walk.

The waterfront city of Portsmouth

Ad | This trip was organised by Gunwharf Quays, however, all views, opinions and photos are our own and remain the copyright of 'The Globe Trotter'. The post may contain affiliate links. 



What to see and do in Portsmouth


From world-class historical attractions & museums, an unrivalled waterfront shopping scene & fabulous places to eat and drink, to seafront attractions & walking trails – there’s plenty to see and do in Portsmouth. You can easily spend days here without getting bored. Take a look at what we got up to on a weekend break to this beautiful port city on England’s south coast.

Day 1 in Portsmouth


Aspex Gallery


Our day began with a visit to the Aspex Gallery which supports emerging artists. The gallery is fairly small but it was a lovely experience nonetheless. During our visit, there was a solo exhibition by artist Sarah Taylor Silverwood who has offered a new take on the myth of Daphne and Apollo using animation and pastel-hued installations.

It was a Saturday when we visited and Aspex was holding a free drop-in workshop for families. Led by local artists, a group of children were enthusiastically creating their own artwork. It was nice to see them enjoying the experience.

Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth

There is also a small cafe on-site that offers a range of homemade cakes and other sweet treats paired with locally sourced coffee and tea.

Gunwharf Quays


Next on our itinerary was exploring one of the UK's leading premium retail outlets - Gunwharf Quays. Located on the city's historic coastline, it is also the South Coast's only outlet shopping centre. Gunwharf Quays is home to more than 90 premium retail outlet stores offering up to 60% off the original price. There are over 30 bars and restaurants as well in Gunwharf Quays; perfect for fuelling up after all the shopping.

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

The range of outlets is amazing. Some of the brands at Gunwharf Quays include Joules, Kipling, Ted Baker, Cadbury, Yankee Candle, Antler, Diesel, Nike, Pandora, Bose, Gant, Weird Fish, Rituals, Asics, Cath Kidston, Osprey London, The Body Shop, Timberland, Loake and GAP Outlet to name a few. Whatever you are looking for - clothes, footwear, sportswear, accessories, beauty products, homewares or gifts - you are sure to find some great bargains while shopping at Gunwharf Quays. It is a unique shopping experience.

Our visit to Gunwharf Quays coincided with their celebrations for the Chinese New Year (the Year of the Rat) and as a part of these celebrations we got to witness the traditional Chinese dragon display, Kung Fu demonstrations from the Shaolin Temple and Portsmouth Chinese Association and a few other performances. It was lovely.

Chinese New Year celebrations at Gunwharf Quays

Chinese New Year celebrations at Gunwharf Quays

Chinese New Year celebrations at Gunwharf Quays

In Chinese custom, red envelopes (known as 'Hong Bao') containing money are gifted to family and friends. Red symbolises luck, happiness and good energy in China and giving these envelopes signifies that you are passing off good luck and happiness to others. Keeping this custom in mind, Gunwharf Quays also handed out red envelopes (containing exclusive discounts across many of the centre’s brands) to visitors during the weekend.

In addition to being a shopper's paradise, what makes Gunwharf Quays an exciting destination on its own is its close proximity to the Emirates Spinnaker Tower and the Historic Dockyard, both of which are not to be missed while visiting Portsmouth.

Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping

Click here to find all the information you need to plan your visit to Gunwharf Quays.
Gunwharf Quays | Portsmouth PO1 3TZ, England

Emirates Spinnaker Tower


Our next stop was Emirates Spinnaker Tower, one of Britain's best viewing towers and also one of Portsmouth's most popular landmarks. The Tower gets its design and name from the sail of an ocean-going yacht - a spinnaker.


Located right next to Gunwharf Quays and standing tall at 170 metres, the iconic tower offers magnificent views over Portsmouth Harbour, the Naval Dockyard, the Solent and the Isle of Wight. It was opened to the public on 18th October 2005, is 547 feet high and offers breath-taking views up to 23 miles away.

I could have spent hours watching the ferries and ships coming and going through the Harbour. We even caught sight of HMS Prince of Wales, one of the most powerful warships of the navy which was docked at the Portsmouth Dockyard at the time we visited.

Emirates Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

A high-speed lift takes visitors 100 metres above sea level to the first of the three viewing decks. On Deck 1, there are touch screen displays that provide information on the many points of interest in the view. We were lucky enough to visit on a clear day and the views were stunning.

View from Emirates Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

Also on Deck 1 are two other interesting experiences:
  • Sky Walk - This is an area in the centre of the deck made of a 3-layered glass floor. Walking across the glass floor, looking down 100 metres is a fun experience and offers a different perspective at the harbour below.
  • Altitude - a thrilling virtual reality experience that gives you the feeling of walking around the outside of the iconic tower with a virtual view of the harbour below. Included in the experience were three different challenges and it was fantastic.

Altitude - a thrilling virtual reality experience on Spinnaker Tower

Altitude - a thrilling virtual reality experience on Spinnaker Tower

On Deck 2 (105 metres above the harbour), is the tower's cafe and bar which offers a traditional afternoon tea experience. There is also a 'Tower and Sparkles Experience' which allows you to take in the stunning views while relaxing in the cafe with a glass of Prosecco.

Deck 3 is the highest accessible viewing area for the general public and is called the Sky Garden. Covered with a light mesh ceiling, it is open to the elements and you can feel the sea breeze as you take in the views from this viewing area.

The Sky Garden at Spinnaker Tower

All in all, we had a great time and a visit to the Emirates Spinnaker Tower is not to be missed when visiting Portsmouth.

Emirates Spinnaker Tower | Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

Portsmouth Museum


Post our Spinnaker Tower experience, we headed to Portsmouth Museum which is home to a number of collections that represent all aspects of Portsmouth. We enjoyed 'The story of Portsmouth' gallery which looks at how life would have been in Portsmouth in the 16th century. The tableaus were interesting and informative.

Portsmouth Museum

We also loved the exhibitions dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - ‘A Study in Sherlock’ and 'You Don't Know Sherlock, Yet'. It features a great collection of Doyle memorabilia. The museum also has a decorative art gallery which we did not have the time to see.

Day 2 in Portsmouth


We had set aside Day 2 for a visit to the Historic Dockyard and the Mary Rose Museum - two of Portsmouth's most visited and popular tourist attractions.

The Mary Rose Museum


What an incredible experience it was visiting this museum!

The Mary Rose was a warship of the Tudor navy of King Henry VIII. The ship sank in 1545 just outside Portsmouth Harbour while defending England from French invasion. The wreck of the ship was discovered in the early 1970s and it was raised from the seabed in 1982. The remains of the ship have been undergoing restoration since they were brought back to the surface and you can see it on display in the museum. Along with the remains of the ship, hundreds of objects like weapons, naval equipment, daily use objects and even musical instruments were recovered from the seabed. All of this has been painstakingly restored and is now on display.

The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth

The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth

Archer's Skeleton at The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth

We had an expert-guided tour of the museum. Tony, the volunteer guide, was very knowledgeable and shared interesting insights about Mary Rose, what life would have been like on the ship and the crew of the Mary Rose. It was very interesting to see the skeleton of a dog (called Hatch) that used to live on the ship with the crew. He not only kept them company but also tracked down and caught rats and other vermin on the ship. Likewise, it was fascinating to learn that more than 100 longbows and several thousand arrows were found on the Mary Rose, from which one could infer that the crew onboard included a large number of archers.

It was fantastic to explore the decks of the Mary Rose - with the real ship on one side and the objects on the other. Audio-visual projections in each section almost brought the ship to life. The whole set up was fantastic and has been put in place superbly. This is a must-visit museum.

The Mary Rose Museum | Main Road, Portsmouth Naval Base, Portsmouth

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard


Located within a working naval base, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a great place to learn more about the Royal Navy - its history, the present and its future. Displayed at the dockyard are three main ships: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and HMS M33.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS Victory


This was undoubtedly the highlight of our visit to the Historic Dockyard. HMS Victory, best known for her role in the Battle of Trafalgar, is now based in a dry dock at the harbour and serves a dual role - as a living museum ship and as the Flagship of the First Sea Lord.

HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS Victory at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The ship was first launched in 1765. While she has been in her current location since 1922, the ship has been open to the public for nearly 200 years! The restoration efforts are commendable. Guided tours are available and last around an hour. The tour is well conducted and the guide shared fascinating and surprising stories about the ship and life on the ship with us. It was an interesting tour and one that we totally recommend.

HMS Warrior


Built for the Royal Navy in the late 1850s, HMS Warrior is Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured battleship. Like HMS Victory, the warship has undergone a conservation project and today visitors can step onto the ship and see many more areas of the warship than before. There are no guided tours here; you need to pick up a leaflet on entry and follow the layout mentioned in it. Knowledgeable volunteers are on board to offer insights and information about the ship and its history. Overall, a very interesting experience.

HMS Warrior at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard


HMS M33


Based in a dry dock, the HMS M33 is a small warship of the Royal Navy that saw active service during the First World War and in Murmansk (Russia) in 1919. Post that, the ship took on different roles and was renamed several times before arriving in Portsmouth in the 1980s. The ship then became a part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy and was opened to the public in 2015.

HMS M33 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

HMS M33 is one of the three British warships from World War I that is still in existence and so it was exciting to take a look at this ship.

Other attractions at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard include:
  • The National Museum of the Royal Navy - permanent and temporary exhibitions that tell the story of the Royal Navy while showcasing artefacts from the past 350 years.
  • Action Stations - housed in Boathouse 6, here you will find interactive simulators, action, adventure and fun experiments; all aimed at bringing visitors as close to a naval experience as possible.
  • Harbour Tour - we did not have the time to go on this tour but it offers visitors fantastic views of the Navy's modern frigates, destroyers and helicopter carriers in addition to Portsmouth's dramatic skyline.
  • Dockyard Apprentice - where you can follow in the footsteps of dockyard apprentices and learn about traditional boatbuilding skills.
  • Boathouse 4 - This has some hands-on children’s activities and exhibitions.
  • Horrible Histories Pirates - This features several interactive experiences including touchscreen games and role-playing opportunities that are a great hit with the younger visitors.

We would have loved to spend more time at the Historic Dockyard but this visit did give us an overview of all that is on offer. The Historic Dockyard offers different types of tickets - from ones that allow entry to any 1 attraction to a Full Navy ticket which allows entry to all the attractions. Irrespective of the type of ticket you purchase, all tickets are valid for a year, so you can come back all year long. Booking in advance and online gives you a substantial discount off the gate price. You can buy the tickets at www.historicdockyard.co.uk

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard | Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth PO1 3LJ

More time in Portsmouth


If you have more than a weekend for your Portsmouth trip, you can explore some other places in and around the city.

For those who enjoy walks, the Millennium Promenade Walk is recommended. Stretching around three kilometres, the route starts near Clarence Pier, Southsea and finishes on The Hard, passing the historic Round and Square Towers, Sallyports, Gunwharf Quays, HMS Vernon Gate and much more.

The D-day Story Museum is dedicated to the Allied Invasion in 1944. With hundreds of personal items and historic artefacts in its galleries, the museum aims to tell the story of the people behind the events of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

One among the many forts built for King Henry VIII, Southsea Castle is open free of charge between March and October each year. It is a great place for visitors to learn more about Tudor history and also enjoy great views of both the city and the sea.

Farlington Marshes Nature Reserve in Langstone Harbour is another great place to visit. While it is lovely to visit all year round, if you head there during the winter season you will be amazed by the numbers and varieties of migratory wildfowl. Not just recommended for bird watchers but also for avid walkers and those who enjoy natural beauty - it is a lovely place to walk with stunning views around the harbour.

You could plan to visit the Isle of Wight for a day trip from Portsmouth by hovercraft service. The crossing takes approximately 10 minutes and the service operates between Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, and the Southsea Hoverport next to Clarence Pier in Portsmouth. With crossings starting in the morning, shortly after 6 am and running every 30 minutes or so until 9 pm every day, this is a great way to visit the Isle of Wight while in Portsmouth.

And if you prefer to simply relax, you can do so on one of the many beaches in Portsmouth.

Where to stay in Portsmouth


There are a lot of places to stay in Portsmouth ranging from budget hotels to seaside apartments and from boutique hotels to homestays and from guesthouses to luxury hotels.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Gunwharf Quays. Our room was modern, spacious, clean and quiet in spite of being in the lively waterfront development. The member of staff who checked us in and all the others whom we interacted with during our stay were very helpful and welcoming.

Room at Holiday Inn Express in Gunwharf Quays

Room at Holiday Inn Express - Gunwharf Quays

Continental breakfast (buffet style) is available each morning and free Wi-Fi is available in all areas of the hotel.

We would recommend Holiday Inn Express because its location in Gunwharf Quays puts you right in the heart of the action. Shops, restaurants, bar; everything is on the doorsteps of the hotel, Spinnaker Tower is a short walk away while Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is just a 10-minute walk away. Superb location!

Check out other hotels in Portsmouth and make a booking here!

Where to eat and drink in Portsmouth


When it comes to food & drinks, Gunwharf Quays has over 30 bars & restaurants to choose from. Whether it is grabbing a healthy breakfast, a quick bite while you are shopping or enjoying a relaxing dinner with your loved ones, you are spoilt for choice at Gunwharf Quays.

Cosy Club


Located in Gunwharf Quays' Spinnaker Dining Quarter is Cosy Club where you can enjoy relaxed dining in a great atmosphere. The place is a jolly mix of a restaurant, a cafe and a bar and has quirky & interesting decor to boot. With a table by the window, we enjoyed a lovely brunch taking in the fab views across the marina.

Cosy Club - Gunwharf Quays

Brunch at Cosy Club - Gunwharf Quays

Vegetarian breakfast at Cosy Club - Gunwharf Quays

Brunch at Cosy Club - Gunwharf Quays

Cosy Club - Gunwharf Quays

Cosy Club serves brunch until 5 pm and they do it very well. Their 'Vegetarian Breakfast' is substantial and is a great way to begin the day. Also recommended is their 'Avocado Brunch' with lime, chilli, coriander and tomato topped with a poached egg on toasted ciabatta - healthy, delicious and kept me full till lunchtime. Great food and great service from the staff.

Cosy Club | 28-29 North Building, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

HUBBOX


Also located in the Spinnaker Dining Quarter is HUBBOX which has a very welcoming vibe and a menu that offers an inspired choice of food including a great range for vegetarians and vegans. The selection of anti-pasty, sides and salads is good and there are many combinations to choose from in their burger menu. And the best part is that they have the option to upgrade to a plant-based vegan burger where they swap the meat with all vegan ingredients.

We started off with sourdough bread with olives marinated in jalapeño and onion. The slight tang of the bread was the perfect complement to the brininess of the olives. Buttermilk-fried sticks of halloumi served with hot sauce and jalapeño mayo were excellent. Both the sauces were spicy and flavoursome. Bhavin opted for a plant-based version of HUBBOX's Classic Cheeseburger while I ordered the Betsy Burger with falafel, chimichurri, roasted red pepper, vegan mayo & lettuce. Both were great, in terms of texture and taste as well.

HUBBOX - Spinnaker Dining Quarter, Gunwharf Quays

Dining at HUBBOX, Gunwharf Quays

Dining at HUBBOX, Gunwharf Quays

Dining at HUBBOX, Gunwharf Quays

Dining at HUBBOX, Gunwharf Quays

HUBBOX, Gunwharf Quays

HUBBOX also stock a great selection of craft beers & cider, wines, hot drinks (all of which are available in dairy-free versions) and coolers (freshly made to order using fresh fruit juices & syrups).

The staff is friendly, non-intrusive and the overall service is great. If you are looking for fab American inspired street food (vegan versions too) & drinks, HUBBOX is the place to go to.

HUBBOX | 30 North Building, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

How to get to Portsmouth


From London, you can travel to Portsmouth with South Western Railway with regular trains running all day between London Waterloo and Portsmouth Harbour. The average journey time is a little over 2 hours with some fast trains taking just 1.5 hours to complete the journey. Portsmouth Harbour railway station is located right next door to Gunwharf Quays; so we literally arrived where we needed to be to start our visit to Portsmouth.

We were impressed with South Western Railway's service - our journey was super easy, comfortable, fast, and safe and it was a great way to cut down our carbon footprint for this trip.

South Western Railway

If you are travelling to Portsmouth from someplace other than London, you can check out South Western Railway's website to plan your journey.

For those who prefer coach travel, the Hard Bus Interchange located near Portsmouth Harbour station provides easy access for all bus and coach passengers. It is served by National Express, Megabus, First Bus, Stagecoach and a few other local bus services.

Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth

So, that is my guide to visiting Portsmouth for a short break. If you haven’t been already, then I certainly recommend that you plan a trip to this port city in Hampshire. With its maritime heritage, superb attractions and Gunwharf Quays Waterfront Outlet Shopping, Portsmouth makes for an ideal weekend city break.

Have you been to Portsmouth? Let me know what you love the most about the city via the comments section below.

37 comments:

  1. I have never visited Portsmouth but I would fefinately enjoy the shopping and eating out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then a trip of Gunwharf Quays is recommended. Over 90 premium retail outlet stores and more than 30 bars and restaurants!

      Delete
  2. As a local - thank you. Portsmouth is a city we can justly be proud of!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is indeed a lovely city; and one to be proud of.

      Delete
  3. I haven't been but would love to go to Gunwharf Quays

    ReplyDelete
  4. Never been to portsmouth - think that may change soon - lots to see and do

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there is lots to see and do in Portsmouth. And something for all ages and all interests.

      Delete
  5. I have never been to Portsmouth but would love to visit the Gunwharf Quay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gunwharf Quays would make for a great day trip if you live nearby or a weekend break if you live further afield. It has good train connectivity as well.

      Delete
  6. as a shopaholic I would love to visit Gunwharf Quays

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you will love it. It is a shoppers paradise.

      Delete
  7. Fantastic blog, ive never been to Portsmouth but its actually on our list for this year so you have given me some great ideas!! Xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's great! And I hope you enjoy your trip to Porstmouth this year.

      Delete
  8. I'd love to visit Farlington Marshes. I'm an avid birdwatcher, especially of waterfowl - I could watch a single duck for hours LOL. I think early spring and autumn would be good times to visit as well to see my favourite bird of prey on migration - the osprey.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've been to Portsmouth many times, as my sister lives nearby in Gosport. I remember going to HMS Victory when I was younger, and absolutely loving it!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have only visited once many years ago and it is a long way from home but I would love to visit the historic dockyard

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've never visited Poertsmouth but I would like to go to Fratton Park for a football match.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I would love to visit and go to the docks

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have never visited Portsmouth but it does look interesting, plenty to see and do

    ReplyDelete
  14. Margaret Clarkson
    I have never been. I would love to visit the Emirates Spinnaker Tower to get some good views and I would definitely love to visit the Mary Rose Museum.

    ReplyDelete
  15. i haven't been but it looks a fab place to visit x

    ReplyDelete
  16. We've visited twice and spent virtually all of both days visiting the amazing historic ships. We also went on a boat trip around the harbour. The captain thanked us for staying until the end of the boat trip which the children thought was very funny. Hoping to see the gallery and the tower next time.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Ihave never been, but I am amazed at how much there is to do, Iaalways thought it was just a naval base

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is lots to see and do in Porstmouth. Makes for a great weekend break destination. Do visit if you have the chance.

      Delete
  18. I have been to Portsmouth on one occasion to catch the ferry to Cherbourg. It does like a pretty city to visit. It is a shame that I live at the other end of the country. It would cost me a fortune to get there by train !


    ReplyDelete
  19. I have never been to Portsmouth, but would like to see the ships

    ReplyDelete
  20. I would like to visit the Mary Rose at the Historic Dockyards. A ship whose history I have always been fascinated by.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will love it. The restoration project at Mary Rose is amazing; so much effort has gone into it and the volunteer staff are great too making it an overall wonderful experience.

      Delete
  21. When I was a child in the 1960s, my grandparents lived in Gosport, near Portsmouth. They took us to see HMS Victory, and to see various other things in the naval dockyard. However, looking at your photos, Portsmouth seems to have changed almost beyond recognition in the last 50 years, so may I need to re-visit.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Have never been to Portsmouth but it does look like it would be a fun place to see.

    ReplyDelete
  23. The Emirates Spinnaker Tower looks amazing

    ReplyDelete
  24. I used to live in the New Forest so i would go into Portsmouth occasionally with my dad although i found it to be far to big and busy to be honest. I remember viewing The Mary Rose exhibition years ago when it first opened and that was an amazing experience.

    ReplyDelete
  25. We did visit Portsmouth once, it's a long way from us in Lancashire, but we simply walked down the seafront and wandered around the shops - we only had a few hours as we were on our journey home xx

    ReplyDelete
  26. I used to live in Winchester and would visit Portsmouth reguarly. In fact I had a craft stall in the Dockyard for their Victorian Christmas. I loved doing that. Gunwharf Quays is exceptional for shopping and eating out. I do miss going there too. All in all, I love Portsmouth.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Not been to Portsmouth myself although my parents have been a few times as my Dad loves the historic shipyard & the naval museum. If I were to visit I would love to visit the Aspex Gallery. I admire all types of art & both my husband & son are artists, although of different genres as my son is more about anime & games characters & is not far away from Portsmouth at Bournemouth University.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I've never been but I'd like to go to the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I have not spent any time in Portsmouth yet but I think I would enjoy the Mary Rose museum and the shopping!

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Blogger.